It never ceases to amaze me how creative people can be – especially with tea. Certainly it requires a good deal of artistry to process a top-quality oolong, for example, or to compose a blend of leaves that complement each other perfectly and transports you to tea nirvana as you sip. But right now I’m talking about creative-tea outside the cup.

I recently profiled an artist who incorporates tea into her paintings for brilliantly colourful and remarkably textured tableaux. Today we’re going to meet a couple of artists whose paintings comprise the essence of tea: just tea and water, with perhaps just a little enhancement.

Carlos Martyn Burgos is a London-based visual artist who works in both painting and photography. I just fell in love with his tea pictures, which meld drawing and painting into one extraordinary image.

Carlos uses real tea and tisanes in his work. I asked him about his technique, which is unique as far as I know, and this is how he explained it: He takes a teabag, adds a touch of hot water, and lets it rest a bit. Meanwhile, he maps out his image with a brush. Then – and this sounds like the really fun part! – he picks up the wet tea bag and throws it against the paper, creating “tea splats.” The black tea and fruit infusions offset each other, creating dual tones. As each stage dries, he layers the splats on top of each other, gradually building up darker hues and creating patterns within the splats. Finally he takes a pencil, along with a pen and white ink, to define and add depth to his composition.

As you can see, the results are quite amazing. Be sure to click through to the second image.

Located right here in South Carolina (who knew?!) illustrator Zach Franzen normally works in oils, watercolours, and drawings. He ventured into tea painting in 2008 to produce several pieces for a special exhibit with the theme of “Civilization.”

Employing the same technique with tea as he does with watercolor or inks, he first developed a black tea infusion. The process incorporated a hundred teabags in a gallon of water, which he then boiled down to a quart of really strong tea. Working from a plastic watercolor palette, he painted directly onto illustration board. He found that the drying quality of the tea was similar to an alcohol-based drawing ink in that it has a sheen and forms a lacquer-like surface in the most concentrated areas.

While Zach hasn’t continued painting with tea following the exhibit, he will take commissions for custom tea paintings. As he tells me: “Painting with tea is difficult because the values don’t build up evenly. The darks tend to rush in. On the other hand this yields an interesting quality.” Indeed: interesting and quite beautiful in my opinion.

Top: Carlos Martyn Burgos greeting cards. Bottom: Zach Franzen illustration.(Photo source: article author)

Top: Carlos Martyn Burgos greeting cards. Bottom: Zach Franzen illustration.(Photo source: article author)

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